It’s a Japanese herb, the most commonly used herbs in Japanese cooking today. Shiso is essential to your recipes. If you want to make Japanese food at your home, it would be a good idea to grow Shiso because you will like it so much.
It’s an annual plant that can be grown from a cutting or seeds. Its botanical name is Perilla Frutescens Var. Crispa.
It is also an herb long used in Japanese cooking, and yet only now it is starting to appear in restaurants of all kinds whose chefs are captivated by its intense flavor.
It has a mysterious, bright taste that reminds people of mint, Basil, tarragon, cilantro, cinnamon, or anise (or how about that wonderful smell of the mountains or the meadows just after a rainstorm)!
Is Shiso easy to grow?
Shiso seeds are very tough and robust. You can seed them in a place in your garden where you want them to take root.
They could take quite a long time to germinate that way, perhaps 3 to 4 weeks, and many of the seeds may fail. You can also sow Shiso indoors to give them a start.
Shiso can also be successfully grown from cuttings.
Shiso (Perilla frutescens) is a purple-colored, leafy plant used commonly in oriental cooking. It’s a generally easy plant and can be grown as a perennial in the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11(no frost) or as an annual anywhere.
Shiso will grow in average soil. Seed starting indoors: Sow the seeds indoors for 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost. To improve germination, soak the seeds in plain water for 24 hours before sowing. You can successfully grow Shiso indoors in bright but indirect light.
What Can You Do With Shiso?
In addition to the above, Shiso can also be used in cooking applications – fried rice or ramen or whole fried leave as a garnish. Put them on low heat, and it will cause the leaves to go slightly brown – but their flavor will be well preserved, as long as you add them to the dish you are preparing, say, about ten minutes towards the end of the cooking.
Set out below is a list of different foods that blend really well with the shiso flavor:
Food Pairings For Shiso Recipes
Shiso + rice
Shiso + noodles or pasta
Shiso + tofu
Shiso + avocado
Shiso + cucumber
Shiso + mushrooms
Shiso + tomato
Shiso + ginger + soy sauce
Shiso + sesame
Shiso + fish and shellfish
Shiso + pork
Shiso + fruit (‘exotic’ fruits, citrus, berries, stone fruits)
What Variety of Shiso Should You Plant?
There are two main types of Shiso:
Red Shiso is usually used to make umeboshi pickled plums and other kinds of pickled, but that is all used. This type of Shiso can not be eaten raw because it is too bitter.
Green Shiso is the one to plant as it is a multi-purpose herb. Some of its uses are:
Garnish, an onigiri wrap, shredded and used as Takumi (extra seasoning) with cold noodles or tofu, pretty dividers in your bento boxes (lunch boxes), in salads, and a lot of other uses.
It Has A Minty Taste And Makes A Great Pesto!
In Japanese, the leaves are called Ohba, which means big plate. The sprouts are used as delicate garnishes, and even the seed pods are eaten – salted and preserved – or as tempura. These leaves can also be made into tempura by dipping in the Tempura batter and deep-frying. These leaves are crunchy and fragrant.
A Healthy Oil
In passing, let me mention another type of Perilla used for culinary purposes: Perilla frutescens Var. Egoma in Japan. This is not Shiso – it has smooth leaves quite unlike the bumpy, frilly leaves of Shiso. Its seeds are used to make a type of oil that is very good for your health.
Where to Buy Shiso Seeds
Shiso seeds should be reasonably easy to locate. Start with your local garden center, or if there’s a Japanese Shop in your area, you could try there.
Sowing Shiso Seeds
These seeds are known for being tough and sturdy. You can seed them in your garden wherever you want them to grow, but they could take a long time to germinate in that way, even as must as three to four weeks, and many of the seeds will probably fail.
So, to ensure that most of your Sisho seeds germinate, the best plan is to put them in water for a good soaking of about 24 hours before seeding.
Next, to sow the soaked seeds, pour them on the seedbed water and all. This way, the seeds should germinate in between four to seven days.
If preferred, you can sow Shiso indoors as a beginning. Sow them in Jiffy-7 pellets; then, you can sew as many as you like and snip away the extra seedlings as they grow.
The seedlings can be used as a garnish on salads, place on cold tofu, and so on, to decorate other foodstuffs. After all, seedlings and sprouts are much of a muchness – they are the same thing!
Stop The Seeds From Drying Out.
If you don’t do this, you will delay the germination even further. Looking at a packet of Japanese seeds here, I must tell you that it recommends covering the seeds with a sheet of newspaper. Then you must keep that paper moist until the seeds germinate. (of course, the trick is to find anyone that keeps newspapers around these days – I certainly don’t know anyone that collects newspapers)!
Have You Decided How Many Plants You Need?
You will only need just one or two plants to give you enough leaves to use as a garnish – as described before – or shredded on top of the tofu, or, even eaten together with cold soba noodles, etc. It might probably be a good idea to plant a few more herb plants if you plan on making plenty of pesto or preserve the seed pods in quantity for later use.
Shiso Can Grow in Containers Quite Happily
With just five or six plants in containers or pots, that is quite sufficient for the items we have discussed early on this page. However, If you need more Shiso, then plant more pots. The main drawback is that they rarely reach their full height when grown in a pot.
Growing Conditions and Climate
You’ll find Shiso growing happily all over Japan. Japan ranges in climate from the Scandanavia -like Hokkaido to the subtropical Okinawa.
In temperate climates with mild winters, Shiso seeds themselves quite readily. You can grow Shiso as you would grow the herb Basil – that likes well-drained soil (although they grow in any kind of soil, they do have that preference). They are no finicky about water either – just water them well if they go dry or start to wilt, and they’ll readily respond well.
When grown in pots/containers, Shiso needs lots of water. They grow to about 5 feet tall! Towards the end of Summer, the flower buds form, and you can let the flowers include their seed pods (or crop them off to stop the leaves from coming). Shiso flowers can be used as beautiful garnishes on sashimi plates, etc.
The plants might self sow for you in the Winter if you leave some seed pods on them.
Things to Look Out For
Shiso leaves hardly ever get any disease, and they’re not attractive to most insects; although, snails love to eat them, so watch out for that.
Perilla Frutescens Var. Crispa.
The above is the botanical name for Shiso – the Japanese herb we’ve been discussing above.
This herb is related to the mint family with sub cultivars in green, red, and purple.
Shiso is also known as Japanese Mint or Perilla.
However, there is another herb that also falls under the Shiso category. It is called:
Beware! This cultivar is toxic to humans. It causes respiratory distress syndrome (panting disease). This plant contains ketones that cause lung inflammation and impairs the exchange of gases involved in breathing. The flowers are the most dangerous, but the whole plant is toxic.
Is Shiso The Same As Perilla?
Shiso is a variety of Perilla frutescens, commonly called Perilla in the mint family. Its botanical name is Perilla frutescens var. crispa and is different from the Korean Perilla leaves. They look similar but taste different.
Shiso is a variety of Perilla, and Shiso is the one that is safe to eat, safe to handle, and safe to cook. Perilla Mint is an entirely toxic and fatal one that should be avoided at all costs. It’s best not even to touch this herb as there could be serious health repercussions.
Please read and re-read this section so that you are sure that you know which plant is safe and which is toxic. In cases where you’re unsure, stop what you’re doing and check first. We cannot emphasize sufficiently how important this is.
Many forms of Shiso are in existence. Their color and type of leaves define them – although coloring is also to be found on the stem and the flower buds.
• Red Shiso ( purpurea) – Leaves red on both sides, flat surface. They are often called “shiso”.
• Ruffled red Shiso (f. crispa) – Leaves red on both sides, ruffled surface.
• Green Shiso (f. viridis) – Leaves green on both sides, flat surface.
• Ruffled green Shiso (f. viridi-crispa) – Leaves green on both sides, ruffled surface. Cultivar.
• Bicolor shiso (f. discolor) – Leaves green on the top side, red on the back side, flat surface. Cultivar.
• Variegated Shiso (f. rosea) – Leaves a mix of green and red on both sides, flat surface.
There are many recipes readily available, so now you can break out those chopsticks you’ve been saving for a ‘shiso’ day!